Governor McKeithen himself is no mean addition to the bedlam. In his booth atop the stadium, where he is accompanied by friends and four state policemen, he is a rousing menace to be near. As everyone must in Tiger Stadium, he talks at the top of his voice and accentuates the finer points of his commentary on the game with fast, hard finger pokes or elbow prods or palm slaps. "See? See?" he shouts. Then he pokes. "What'd I tell you. I said, 'Roll out, Freddie,' and he did. First down! See?" Not since the rampaging days of Huey Long, the flamboyant Kingfish, has Louisiana or the entire United States, for that matter, seen a governor so wrapped up in football. McKeithen favors the nickname Coach, and last fall he skipped out on his own election night to fly to Jackson for the Ole Miss—LSU game.
McKeithen will never equal Long's antic fanaticism and does not want to. The Kingfish led parades, gave blistering locker room talks and screamed signals to the team from the sidelines. He once threatened to raise taxes on railroad bridges 4,000% if the Illinois Central did not lower its fare for LSU students taking a football train to Nashville; the fare dropped from $19 to $6. Once, when he heard that the date of a circus visit to Baton Rouge was hurting LSU game ticket sales, he called the circus manager and told him that he would force him to put every lion, tiger, elephant and gorilla through a sheep dip to prevent who knows what foul diseases unless the show date was changed; it was. Oddly enough, Long did not destroy football at LSU. He probably made it what it is.
"I think I can do as much good as Huey did," says McKeithen, "but I'll do it without interfering." Nowadays McKeithen only appears on LSU sidelines to help with pregame recruiting spiels to high school prospects. He shakes the hand of each boy and fervently urges him to come to Baton Rouge, and then the governor retires to his seat upstairs. But he is in there pitching hard all year to sell top players on LSU. When a boy comes to town, McKeithen may have him chauffeured around in his white Cadillac. The best prospects always get a personal interview with the governor and often a breakfast at the mansion. During the game last Saturday night an LSU tackle made a spectacular play, and McKeithen jabbed, poked and grabbed a bystander, shouting, "See that 73? 73? That's John Sage from Houston, Texas! He's a fahn boy, a fahn boy. He et all mah breakfast one mornin' up at the mansion. John Sage. We recruited him from Houston."
McKeithen insists that he does not impose himself on McClendon's staff. "If they ask mah help, I give it fast. If Charlie Mac wants me to talk to a boy, I'm on the phone to his mommy and daddy one minute after the coach hangs up."
Although the governor's enthusiasm is both constant and contagious, he—along with all staunch Tigers fans—has been less than absolutely optimistic about LSU's 1968 team. The team was sound, as usual, on defense, and boasted such solid running backs as Tommy Allen and Eddie Ray, but the quarterback situation seemed dim going into the opener against Texas A&M, the Southwest Conference champion. McClendon has long insisted that Haynes, small as he is, was the only man really qualified to replace the departed Nelson Stokley. But there was wide dissent around Louisiana. Haynes was roundly booed during a spring game, and last summer the rumor spread that the only reason he was LSU's No. 1 quarterback was because he was related to the governor. "They's no kin, no how," snorts McClendon. "Freddie's merited the job."
For a good part of the game against A&M it did not seem that Haynes or the LSU Tigers in general would ever merit another breakfast at the mansion. Up in the governor's booth there was an air of rather strained optimism as the third quarter started with the Tigers trailing 12-6. "Hey, we gonna intercept one. You watch," shouted McKeithen. "Or we'll recover a fumble. We do that, and it's our game. All ours." Even though the Aggies seemed flat and were showing signs of weariness against LSU's deeper squad, the governor was even more uneasy as the fourth quarter began.
"Well," he boomed, "this is a great team, these Aggies. We may not beat 'em. But don't worry. Don't worry! We gonna beat some real good teams this year. Real good!"
And, sure enough, in the fourth quarter LSU did beat a real good team, because suddenly Haynes took on new stature. Starting on the LSU 44, he picked up nine yards himself on an option play. He had been told at the half to avoid the left side of Texas A&M's line, so from the Aggies' 21, Haynes sent Allen for four straight slants in the other direction, and LSU wound up on the four. Two plays later, Haynes kept the ball until the perfect moment, then pitched to Jim West for the touchdown. LSU had the lead at last.
At this point A&M struck back. Hargett fired two superb passes for 47 and 23 yards, and suddenly Tiger Stadium burst into noisy alarm. The governor pounded the wall. The Aggies were on the LSU five. Two plays gained one yard. Then Hargett pitched wide to Bob Long. Long raced to within a foot of the goal, was hit just as he took the last step toward the end zone and dropped the ball. It rolled—as if obeying a gubernatorial decree—through the end zone and out-of-bounds for an automatic touchback, and LSU took over, its victory in hand. The stadium was delirious. The governor was delirious. Texas A&M was probably delirious too. That Baton Rouge is one real football town, my fren'.